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Hybrid vs plug-in hybrid: What's the difference?

What is the difference between a hybrid and plug in hybrid?

The main difference when looking at a hybrid vs a plug in hybrid is that the former is powered by both a petrol-fuelled internal combustion engine and a battery-powered electric motor that can work either independently or simultaneously, whereas the latter is powered chiefly by an electric motor and will only use its internal-combustion engine as a back-up should your electric motor’s battery run out of juice. 

SUV, BMW, AWD - if there’s one thing the automotive industry loves, it’s an acronym. 

A new addition to the ranks is ‘PHEV’. If you’re scratching your head in dismay wondering “What is a PHEV?”, we can reveal the PHEV meaning, which is, quite simply, ‘Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.’ 

But what is a plug-in hybrid vs regular hybrid, and how do the two types of vehicle compare? 

“What is a plug-in hybrid?” is an easy one to answer: it’s a vehicle with both an electric motor powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and a petrol-powered internal-combustion engine, but it will only use the latter as a back-up plan should the electric motor run out of charge, which will come as a comfort to drivers who have range anxiety. To recharge the electric part of the system - the battery - you simply plug the PHEV into a charger (or into the powerpoint in your garage if you don’t have a specific charging wall box installed at home). 

A regular hybrid is much the same as a PHEV, except that the electric motor and internal-combustion engine work either independently or concurrently to power the car, although a hybrid cannot be plugged into a recharging station to power up the car’s battery. 

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Instead, the electricity in a hybrid car can be created via either acceleration while driving or a process called “regenerative braking.” This is when kinetic energy that’s created when the brakes of the vehicle are applied is converted into electricity that then gets stored in the battery, thus essentially recharging your hybrid while you drive. Clever. 

The downside is that the range that this kind of a hybrid can travel in all-electric mode is usually quite limited - often as little as a few kilometres o - and it can only go all-electric at limited speeds of up to about 30km/h. 

However, a hybrid does reduce fuel-consumption costs and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that contribute to air pollution by switching between using the electric motor and the combustion engine depending on the driving conditions, your speed and whether or not the car is stationary. 

Drivers won’t notice much difference as the hybrid toggles between the electric motor and internal-combustion engine - something that can be monitored on the vehicle’s infotainment screen - save for the car occasionally running silently when in electric mode. 

In a regular hybrid, the electric motor and internal-combustion engine work either independently or concurrently to power the car. In a regular hybrid, the electric motor and internal-combustion engine work either independently or concurrently to power the car.

Hybrids also have the advantage of being on the market for 20 years now, the Toyota Prius having launched in Australia in 2001. This means the technology that hybrids use has been refined over time, leading to smaller and more efficient batteries and greater power output. 

The main benefit drivers will find from owning a hybrid is lower overall fuel costs and the lack of need to charge the vehicle externally. 

Like solar panels on a house, a hybrid is also an environmentally friendly technology, meaning you’ll get that warm, fuzzy feeling from owning one. 

PHEVs, which have been available in Australia since 2011, are a good option for those who travel relatively short distances to work, due to the fact they can travel around 40 to 60km on electricity alone, without having to use the petrol engine. 

The PHEV can then be charged via a wall socket or charging station during the work day, giving drivers the environmentally and wallet friendly ability to make their daily work commute a petrol-free experience. 

Charging stations can also be installed in people’s homes by a specialist technician, cutting down on the need to hunt down a public charging station to recharge the car. 

The battery size of the PHEV determines how long it takes to charge, as does the model of the vehicle and the actual charging outlet, making charging times vary greatly. A good rule of thumb is to expect a full charge to take somewhere in the vicinity of two to six hours in total.

Some drivers will like the fact they can drive all-electric in a PHEV, but they should be aware a full charge is unlikely to get them through a work week and the vehicle will require regular charging. 

All-electric driving will of course also cut down on fuel costs, so long as you keep the car’s battery charged. If leaning on the internal-combustion engine as the main source of power becomes the norm, expect greater petrol costs compared to a standard hybrid. 

Hybrids are becoming increasingly popular in Australia due to their combination of power, price and positive environmental impact. 

Hybrid sales in Australia overall saw a huge leap in 2020, recording a sizeable 93.7 per cent increase from 31,191 vehicles in 2019 to 60,417 vehicles sold last year.

Several car manufacturers, like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Subaru, offer hybrid versions of their petrol-powered models, and the price difference between the two is usually quite small.

The Toyota RAV4, Australia’s most popular SUV, saw its hybrid model top Australia’s car sales for the first time ever in August 2020.

PHEVs also saw an increase in sales of 18.2 per cent, rising from from 1426 vehicles sold in 2019 to 1685 vehicles in 2020.

Regardless of how the consumer feels in the plug in hybrid vs hybrid battle, both types of vehicle are going to cut down on fuel costs and carbon emissions, and both are a good stepping stone toward getting a fully electric vehicle (EV), which is where the global automobile market is eventually headed. 

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